I Got You Babe! UB40 reveal all ahead of their Irish Village show
Ali Campbell’s UB40 bring their laidback reggae flows and rhythms to Dubai this weekend. Our friends at Hype catches up with the chatty front man…
You’ve performed around the world. What appeals to you about Dubai’s Irish Village? We always have a fabulous time there. I’ve played in the Aviation Club and the Tennis Club before. It’s an expat crowd, and you can’t get better than expat crowds as far as I’m concerned. They know all the songs, they have a thoroughly good time, and they party all night.
We understand you’re quite familiar with the city… I’ve spent many years in Dubai and I’ve watched it grow. The first time I visited Dubai was in the early ’80s and there wasn’t even an airport then. I started off in Jumeirah, and then into Mina Salaam, and then Al Qasr. I basically lived there with my wife and kids most of the time. I know it like the back of my hand.
What artists influenced you when you were growing up? Well, of course The Wailers. The Wailers did an album in 1970 called African Herbsman with Lee Perry, which I think remains the quintessential reggae album of all time. And just reggae, in general. I grew up listening to reggae like my West Indian friends did, and with any music you have to have an understanding of it. That’s why I play reggae – because I understand it, because I grew up listening to it.
Your dad and aunt were both folk singers so how did you end up in the reggae scene? My dad was a folk singer, and my aunt was in his band. I didn’t like folk music, quite simply. There wasn’t enough bass in it for me. And you always have to do the opposite of what your father wants so I became a reggae musician.
In 2012 you were a judge on TV show New Zealand’s Got Talent. How did you bag that gig? I was offered the job by somebody who’d worked for Virgin back in the day. I’d been going to New Zealand since 1981 so I knew New Zealand very well, but never had enough time there until this opportunity came up. I was there for three months, working one day a week, so I got to see a lot of the north island and the south island, and went through the alps and all that. I took my kids and it was a good laugh. But it’s not the sort of thing I’d make a living doing. It’s an entertainment programme and it’s not there to be taken seriously.
Who else was on the panel with you? The beautiful Rachel Hunter and Jason Kerrison, who’s a singer in Opshop, a New Zealand band. Both were delightful and great to work with.
Who won? It was a little girl who won, and she was OK. But it was a bit strange that the JGeeks – who were a Maori act – didn’t win, as they were getting a million hits on YouTube and had a huge fan base. I don’t know what happened there. There was a lot of indigenous talent though, so it was all-good.
Were you a kind and gentle or brutal judge? I think I was a very gentle and funny judge.
Would you have auditioned for a TV show like that or X Factor if they’d been around when you were younger? No, we were a bit too canny to be doing something like that. You don’t see many bands on these talent shows because they have to sign about 50 per cent of their future earnings away to Simon Cowell. So we wouldn’t have done that. We were famous for not taking an advance when we were all on the dole. We were offered big advances but we refused them because we went for the points instead. It was the right thing to do for us because we sold a million copies of our first album and we managed to get ourselves the same deal as Paul McCartney.
After 70 million record sales what do you think is the secret behind your success? Simply, we make great reggae music. Reggae music is the most influential music in the world. It’s the sexiest music in the world. And everywhere that you go, there’s a homegrown reggae music scene. That’s the secret behind our success.
Could you ever see yourself doing something other than making music? Well, yes. I’d love to be a farmer. We’ll leave it there. I’d like to grow things.
What experiences of working with other people stand out from your long career? It was with UB40 when we did the Fathers Of Reggae album. That was a collection of our songs, but done by our heroes, the people we’d grown up listening to like John Holt, Freddie McGregor, Toots Hibbert and people like that. It doesn’t get any better than that, when your heroes are singing your stuff. It’s brilliant.
There are now two bands with the UB40 name and the other band recently played in Dubai. What’s the story there? Well, there’s my band, which is called UB40 Reunited. And that’s with me, Astro and Mickey – we’re all original members of UB40. We’re the original singers. The other UB40 that’s going around is not the original line-up. It’s got my brother singing my songs. My brother happens to be a folk singer so it doesn’t go down very well.
Any news from the studio? Yes, we’ve almost finished a brilliant new album. We’re now putting on more tracks, at RAK Studios in London, and it’ll be released imminently.
What can people expect from your gig at The Irish Village? A show of hits that people will all know and we party on down. So yeah, we’re looking forward to partying like we always have at The Irish Village. That and some Guinness.
The Irish Village, Garhoud, Dubai. Thursday, April 3, from 7pm. Taxi: Irish Village. Dhs175. theirishvillage.com